Syd Barrett, the late former frontman and guitarist of Pink Floyd, is perhaps the most highly mythologised figure in the whole of rock music. An early casualty of excessive LSD use and unresolved mental health issues, Barrett’s post-Floyd life is one of great mystery. It is one that was mainly led behind closed doors.
After leaving the Floyd, Barrett moved between various expensive hotels in London before assuming a brief residency at the very charming Chelsea Cloisters apartment in London’s most affluent borough. Then, he retreated to the comfort of his mother’s home in his native Cambridge, where he would mainly reside until his passing in 2006.
In Pink Floyd, his whimsical take on psychedelia was both pioneering and iconic. Known for the ample literary influences utilised and his stream-of-consciousness writing style, Barrett was possibly the most unique musical artist Britain had to offer in the 1960s.
Aside from his lyrics, Barrett’s guitar playing was also unorthodox. His free-form playing employed effects such as dissonance, distortion, echo and feedback to produce an otherworldly sound that augmented the surreal, narcotic dreamlands his lyrics created.
In between his time in Pink Floyd and years as a hermit, Barrett would still work on music, just the quality of it is varying. His solo work has always been a hot topic between diehard Pink Floyd fans, and of course, loyal Barrett supporters. Famously, in 1970, he released a pair of albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. Surreal, far out and inconsistent, the duo of albums were the last actual studio albums he would release in his lifetime.
For his solo material, Barrett was aided by his old Pink Floyd friends, Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Richard Wright, to produce and play the music. The Madcap Laughs is hailed as a cult classic. It has found a place in the hearts of many of our favourite iconoclasts, including David Bowie, Genesis P-Orridge, Viv Albertine and John Frusciante, to name but a few.
Barrett, meanwhile, is a much more divisive record. A darker, less complete collection of songs, it had its brilliant moments, but Barrett’s decline in mental health permeates it, and it’s hard to ignore.
Of the work that went into Barrett, Wright remembered: “Doing Syd’s record was interesting, but extremely difficult. Dave (Gilmour) and Roger (Waters) did the first one (The Madcap Laughs) and Dave and myself did the second one. But by then it was just trying to help Syd any way we could, rather than worrying about getting the best guitar sound. You could forget about that! It was just going into the studio and trying to get him to sing”.
Something brilliant did come out of the sessions for Barrett, though. This was the track ‘Bob Dylan Blues’. It didn’t see the light of day until the compilation The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn’t You Miss Me? was released in 2001.
It is said that the song was written by Barrett after attending a concert in 1964, a time before he had a publishing deal. One of the earliest songs he ever wrote, it reflects his love of the blues, something that can be heard throughout his records, just not as clear as on this track, given all the psychedelia and FX.
The track was recorded on February 26th, 1970, and it is a mystery why it didn’t make it onto the album. It remained lost until David Gilmour unearthed the tape in his personal collection nearly 30 years later. It was then that it found its way onto the 2001 compilation.
It’s remarkable that the song never made it onto Barrett because, simply put, it is brilliant. Gone are the psychedelic tales of fantastical adventure, and instead, Barrett does his best Bob Dylan impression. The track is all Barrett, on acoustic guitar and vocals, and it presents a totally different side to him than the one that is often seen in discourse.
Some of the lyrics are genius. The first verse sets a precedent for the rest of the song: “Got the Bob Dylan blues / And the Bob Dylan shoes / And my clothes and my hair’s in a mess / But you know I just couldn’t care less”. The chorus is also incredible, “‘Cause I’m a poet, don’t ya know it / And the wind, you can blow it / Cause I’m Mr. Dylan, the king / And I’m free as a bird on the wing”.
Barrett’s impression of Dylan is so good, it gives Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘A Simple Desultory Philippic a run for its money. It contains all of Barrett’s dry humour and is one of the most upbeat songs he ever produced. An underrated classic. We think it’s about time ‘Bob Dylan Blues’ got more love. It’s moments like these that show what a true genius Syd Barrett was.
Listen to ‘Bob Dylan Blues’ below.